A few years ago when I was reaching the inevitable end of my thirties a friend suggested we take a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. I went along not expecting to enjoy the experience. It was my first time walking through the gates to the “magic kingdom” since probably the age of 10. After a life full of personal drama, living through inward and outward wars, I couldn’t help but focus on the lines that stretched on for days and the high ticket prices.
As the sun set and the lights came up, something in the air and my soul shifted and I was taken back through the rabbit hole to a place or purity and joy. It was, yes, magical and liberating. I guess M.J. was on to something. Fittingly enough, the 3D spectacle, “Captain E.O.” starring Michael Jackson was playing every 15 minutes in Tomorrowland and people young and old were still lining up to see it.
“Unbreakable” recaptures that childlike quality and inimitable Jackson magic that has been missing from the world of pop for some time now. Who better to do The King of Pop, than his sister who adored and idolized him? Here she reaches new levels as an artist and sounds more like her brother than ever before while still remaining true to herself.
On “The Great Forever” and especially the exceptional “Broken Hearts Heal” Janet has incorporated his technique for accenting the end of phrases and has lowered her voice to eerily mimic his style and rhythmic flow, encapsulated in a sort of late ‘60s/early ‘70s Motown wash (“Dreamaker/Euphoria”) and smooth ‘90s r&b beats (“Can’t Get No Sleep”) while still feeling fresh, genuine and of the now.
“Unbreakable” is very much a trademark Janet Jackson (fake shy laugh intact -- hat tip Christopher S.) album, but more evolved and mature than anything from her past output. Her brother is present in spirit as well and it feels like they are doing cosmic duets throughout. It is no secret that it was a conscious choice of her and legendary producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to pay M.J. tribute with this album, subtly and figuratively through the complex melodies and lyrics.
Here Jam & Lewis are on their A game. Throughout Unbreakable you can’t deny their superior production skills and ability to layer vocals creating a unique and euphoric experience. They also showcase their gift for orchestration on “After the Fall”, one of her best ballads to date. This is deep stuff.
“Unbreakable” is not an album solely for children, but for the child in all of us, so it is accessible to all ages which is part of why the Jackson’s became a lasting worldwide phenomenon. On “Shoulda Known Better”, a future hit single -- if we are lucky -- she sings, “Why, why, why” which recalls M.J.’s Human Nature. I got goose bumps.
At the end of this great track she sadly recalls her desire to change the world through her epiphany in the ‘80s, resulting in her “brilliant” idea for a peaceful utopia as she inwardly scolds, “Rhythm Nation was this dream. I guess next time I’ll know better,” as she chastises herself for being optimistic about the power her music had to change the world for the better. I believe from this effort that she still has time.
Her music has done a lot of good for a lot of people already. Unbreakable is a fitting tribute to her great talent and that of her late brother. It is also a future classic and from first note to last -- a pop masterpiece.